Not so long ago, speakers at edtech conferences often quipped that if Ben Franklin were to visit our world today, the only place he would recognize is the public school classroom. While that old chestnut long held some truth, it ceased being applicable this past spring, when the “classroom” changed virtually overnight.
The pandemic transformed an educational system that’s been slow to evolve. Students’ kitchens became their classrooms, parents became co-teachers and tech support, and the internet became a lifeline to learning. Educators had to radically rethink how we educate our children. We’ve grappled with how to do something apart that, for centuries, we’ve done together. For many schools and districts, the successful move from in-person to remote instruction would require a robust learning management system (LMS).
Built originally for classroom management, many LMS platforms haven’t evolved for today’s highly fluid teaching environment. Educators need to ask: Can my LMS go the distance? Is it versatile enough to adapt to the shifting demands of education?
Kate McAnelly, chief academic officer, and Natalee Feese, math instructional specialist, for Fayette County Public Schools in Kentucky, a partner district of Savvas Learning Company, faced those questions when putting their LMS to the test. I spoke with them to gain their insight on choosing the right platform. Here, we discuss five key features that every LMS must have to deliver a successful learning experience—no matter where it takes place.
1. Easy Access For Students
As districts across the country transitioned to distance learning, it was easy to identify the number one pain point: simplified access for students. Traditionally a supplement to classroom learning, technology in the remote environment now serves as the gateway to the classroom, enabling learning but potentially acting as a barrier to it, as well. Easy access is key, yet edtech platforms have lagged behind consumer apps in providing user-friendly access and simple authentication.
The key is choosing a provider with a reliable Single Sign-On (SSO) that securely and easily opens the door to a student’s online learning experience with a few simple clicks. And scalability is important. Rostering and SSO solutions need to fit your district’s unique technology needs.
A robust LMS also ensures that content is easily accessible. This includes making content downloadable, allowing students to complete their schoolwork offline. Additionally, documents such as PDFs, notoriously difficult to annotate online, should be dynamic and interactive.
2. Embedded, Flexible Content
This new learning environment has placed greater demands on teachers, making instructional time more precious. Teachers are faced with challenges they’ve never encountered. How do I teach this new concept through video conference? How can I be sure my students are engaged and learning at home? How can I shift smoothly between remote and classroom teaching?
Quality curricula embedded in an LMS gives educators a critical advantage. The right LMS should provide solid pedagogy and engaging activities to introduce, teach and monitor progress—all in one platform. In Fayette, Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk made a strategic decision, prior to the coronavirus, to adopt a math curriculum for districtwide use, with high-quality, standards-aligned content available in print and digital formats. The decision to go with Investigations (K-2) and enVision® Mathematics (3-12), offered by Savvas Learning Company and delivered on its Savvas Realize™ LMS, proved critical to keep learning thriving when the pandemic hit.
“With the enVision program,” explains Feese, “it’s built for at-home learning. The whole blended platform just works beautifully. We have at least two days a week where we Zoom with kids. During those times, teachers are doing the ‘Solve and Share’ or ‘Convince Me’ activities. They also have the animated videos.” Quality content, blended seamlessly with a powerful, intuitive LMS, is key to providing personalized learning at scale.
Understanding which material will work best in a distance-learning context is critical. It’s what drove us to develop the Distance Learning Toggle now featured in our programs. With the click of a button, teachers can seamlessly shift between classroom and remote-learning content that’s been curated and deemed essential for distance learning. For McAnelly and Feese, it’s a vital tool to help their math teachers quickly understand core content that’s a “must,” allowing them to streamline instruction for distance learning. As Feese explains, “It’s not only helpful because it tightens up what’s offered and prioritizes what’s most important to do with kids, but it teaches the teacher. It says: ‘Hey, I put a little red flag on these five activities because . . . this is really important.’”
3. District Assessment Sharing and Data-Rich Reporting
Technology-enabled and auto-scored district assessments, tied to the core curriculum, are another key piece of an LMS. School districts and administrators need one place to administer assessments, no matter where students log in. As a district offering Algebra in 22 locations, Fayette found the new District Assessment Sharing tool in the Realize LMS valuable for centrally managing and customizing common assessments. Such a feature can ensure that assessments meet district needs and provide deep insight into standards mastery and performance across all schools. “Now we’re all using the same platform and the same common assessment with the same standards that our data people approved,” says Feese.
These data-rich interactions provide districts with immediate access to results, relaying feedback to schools and an instructional roadmap for teachers. Having instructional content and assessments tightly aligned in the same LMS provides a seamless way to measure progress. McAnelly stresses that delivering real-time results helps educators quickly assess areas of strength and identify those needing support: “We are rich with data that’s delivered in a district report as well as broken down to the school level. It’s very helpful for our district.” With the shift to hybrid or remote learning, reporting and data analysis by district, school and classroom are now especially vital components of an LMS.
4. Plug-and-Play Interoperability
The right LMS provides integration of instructional content, assessments and student data on a single platform. It should also plug-and-play with other enterprise systems like authentication platforms and Student Information Systems (SIS) that facilitate SSO and automated rostering, as well as solutions that enable distance learning. Interoperability with other platforms such as Google Classroom, video sharing applications and content sharing via robust integrations is important, too. The IMS Global Learning Consortium provides standards and certifications that are the benchmark for edtech interoperability. Look for providers who are IMS Certified and will provide this integration free-of-charge.
5. A Trusted Partnership
Your LMS should come from a trusted partner who can facilitate implementation, offer professional learning and provide on-demand technical support. A good partner listens and responds to your needs, which are shifting rapidly with new modes of teaching. Can you count on your LMS partner to help your teachers plan and implement curriculum for distance or hybrid instructional models?
A reliable, forward-thinking LMS provider, working in unison with a premium content provider, will optimize its platform and offer guidance on teaching in synchronous and asynchronous ways, with lesson plans, instructional tools and readiness assessments, geared specifically for distance learning. A trusted LMS partner should bring tools and resources directly to you, exactly how you want them.
No LMS on its own can make up for the extreme changes and challenges we are experiencing now, but the right LMS should serve as a foundational building block in today’s new classroom.